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Officials in the Department of Defence told their superiors they were left distressed and mystified by Peter Dutton’s ban of special morning teas to mark an annual day in support of LGBTQI colleagues, with one staff member saying it had cemented their decision to quit.
Defence employees spoke out about feeling “immediate disappointment and shame” and of being “slightly disturbed” by the “tone deaf” decision to stop the events celebrating the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT).
Emails reveal staff felt shame after Defence Minister Peter Dutton banned IDAHOBIT celebrations, claiming “we are not pursuing a woke agenda”.Credit:
The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in May revealed that the Defence Minister had ordered his department and serving military personnel to stop events with “particular clothes in celebration” after Defence held morning teas where staff wore rainbow clothing to mark IDAHOBIT.
Mr Dutton told Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell and secretary Greg Moriarty to issue a note ending such events, saying he would never tolerate discrimination but would not pursue a “woke agenda” either.
Internal emails, obtained under freedom of information laws, reveal some Defence officials were deeply offended by the order and raised concerns about how it would damage morale. Only complaints to senior Defence leaders and human resources were included in the request and responses were redacted in part.
One senior official told another that one of her staff members was “incredibly distressed by this message”.
“I was wondering if you might be able to outline what this means for the LBTQI community and the Defence approach to inclusion,” she wrote.
Another Defence official said they were “slightly disturbed” by the order and wanted to talk to someone to “understand what is the motivation and message that is being conveyed”.
A third said they felt “immediate disappointment and shame” and the order “further concretes my decision to leave Defence”. The person said it was a “terrible reaction that is damaging on many levels”.
“Firstly to the LGBTIQ+ community and in particular members of Defence it must have been horrible to have a day that is meant to promote inclusivity and compassion singled out and deemed unnecessary,” the email read.
“In terms of Defence’s reputation I think it is a horrible reflection and not in keeping with the Defence values. It is tone deaf to current issues within not only the Defence community but the broader Australian community.”
The same employee said that Defence could have the “odd morning tea or gathering to celebrate or bring light” to a number of causes without jeopardising the “mission to protect Australia’s national security interests”.
“I would ask for some clarification that if we are to cease these events, will the same occur for International Women’s Day, ANZAC Day or Remembrance Day and Harmony Day.”
In a letter to General Campbell and Mr Moriarty in June, the Community and Public Sector Union said the order and Mr Dutton’s comments were “hurtful to many Defence LGBTI+ employees and their many allies”.
“LGBTI+ employees have been told before that their existence will undermine military “morale” and distract or even threaten national security,” the letter said. “It was then and is today a homophobic argument that has no basis in fact. Yet this view appears to be reappearing at the highest levels in Defence.”
In response, Mr Moriarty and General Campbell did not directly address the union’s concerns about the order, but said Defence was an “inclusive organisation that does not tolerate discrimination”.
“Defence’s primary mission is to defend Australia and its national interests. Having a diverse workforce that is supported by an inclusive culture is critical to achieving this mission,” their letter, which was seen by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, read.
The original order marked a backflip by Defence’s leadership, which had earlier sent a note to staff urging them to mark IDAHOBIT by wearing rainbow clothing and ally pins to morning tea events.
“Defence ADF and APS employees are encouraged to acknowledge IDAHOBIT in a COVID-safe manner,” the note said. “Examples for activity include hosting morning teas, encouraging discussions regarding the importance of IDAHOBIT, raising awareness of LGBTI rights and wearing visible rainbow clothing or ally pins.”
The goal was to show “support for our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) colleagues, friends and family by standing against prejudice and discrimination, and demonstrating inclusion”.
Asked for comment, a spokesperson for Defence said it was “continually taking steps to enhance policy to support all members of the Defence community and supports a number of days of significance that relate to national commemorations, culture, workforce and families”.
“Defence is committed to building a capable and diverse workforce that reflects the community we serve,” the spokesperson said.
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